The St.George Queensland Reds have fallen short of victory in Durban despite a second half fight back, going down 35-20 to the Sharks early Sunday morning (EST).
Down 25-6 at half time, the Reds scored second half tries through Mike Harris and Will Genia to open up the chance of a comeback victory, before a late Sharks’ try killed off the match.
The teams scored two tries each, but the Sharks kicked seven penalties to make the difference.
Reds head coach Richard Graham said missed opportunities and a high penalty count were factors in the loss.
“We started the game very well and managed position and possession. We then had a 20-minute period where we lost control of the game and decisions at the breakdown compounded the scoreboard pressure,” Graham said.
“The score at half time was challenging, but we composed ourselves and got back to 28–20. At that point the game was where we should have gone on with it.”
“We had a couple of opportunities that we didn’t capitalise on and we are disappointed.”
At a steamy 28 degrees, the team took the field with conditions resembling a balmy night in Brisbane.
Queensland started strongly keeping the ball in hand and winning a penalty, which Quade Cooper slotted over confidently from 40 metres out to the right of the posts to put the Reds up 3-0 after just three minutes.
The Reds’ defence was exceptional in the early exchanges, making the much vaunted Sharks pack work hard for every centimetre.
But a penalty from a Reds’ lineout gave the Sharks a chance to even the score and Frans Steyn landed the long range attempt from halfway on ten minutes.
James Horwill then did well to disrupt a Sharks lineout to put the Reds on the attack and soon after a half break from Liam Gill led to another penalty which Cooper landed to give the Reds back the lead 6-3 after 15 minutes.
But it was all the Sharks in the next ten minutes as the Reds were starved of possession.
First a trio of penalties to flyhalf Patrick Lambie put the Sharks up 12-6 and then a miscued kick fortunately fell into the arms of JP Pietersen whose break was eventually finished off with a try to loose forward Willem Alberts. Lambie’s conversion stretched the lead to 19-6.
The Reds then conceded another penalty goal to Lambie when the penalty could have easily been given the other way for a high tackle by Ryan Kankowski on Gill.
A further long range penalty to Steyn made it 25-6 to the home side.
The Reds then gave up two kickable penalties as they upped the ante in the final minutes just before half time, camping in the Sharks 22.
The decision could have paid off perfectly when a pinpoint pass from Genia gave Mike Harris a clear run in under the posts but the usually reliable centre spilled the ball in the slippery conditions with the line wide open.
The Reds dominated the first ten minutes of the second half, creating numerous try-scoring opportunities but a combination of bad luck, handling errors and desperate defence somehow kept the Sharks’ line uncrossed.
A backline movement then saw the Reds cut the Sharks’ defence open but the ball was spilled by Chris Feauai-Sautia when another try looked on the cards. It was the Reds’ sixth handling error, two ending clear try-scoring opportunities.
Livewire fullback Aidan Toua then went perilously close, just failing to re-gather a grubber kick before the Sharks line.
But on 53 minutes the Reds finally got over for a much-deserved try. A turn over from Jake Schatz gave the Reds a scrum 10 metres out.
A powerful shove from the Reds’ pack saw Schatz pick up at the back before offloading to Genia who sent a long ball to Cooper. The flyhalf then popped a perfectly timed ball to Harris who this time held on and bumped off two tacklers to score under the posts. Cooper’s conversion brought the score back to 25-13.
Another Lambie penalty once again extended the Sharks lead to 28-13 but the Reds refused to give up.
A counter attack sparked by Toua was then carried on by Feauai-Sautia who offloaded to replacement Beau Robinson before Genia picked up the ball at the back of a quick ruck and scooted 25 metres to score the Reds second try.
Cooper converted and the Reds were back to 28-20 with 15 minutes left to play.
Robinson was then yellow carded for playing a man in the air at the lineout and the momentum swung back to the Sharks.
The man-advantage eventually told and a late try to Dale Chadwick after a period of sustained pressure finally ended the Reds’ chances, although Queensland continued to attack well after the siren.
The Reds now move on to Johannesburg where they play the Lions at Ellis Park at 1:00am (EST) next Sunday.
“We wake up tomorrow and shift our focus to next weekend’s match against the Lions,” Graham said.
“They have started the season strongly and will be buoyed by their win over the Blues. We need to prepare well and continue to improve if we are to get the result we are chasing.”
Reds prop Ben Daley will travel home to Brisbane tomorrow to receive scans on his right knee after coming off the field with an injury in the 75th minute of the game.
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